University of Cincinnati researchers track climate changes in Arctic thaw lakes

If global warming occurs as scientists predict, it could be exacerbated by changes in Arctic thaw lakes and their basins, which make up the majority of the landscape on the Arctic Coastal Plain. That's why University of Cincinnati assistant professor of geography Wendy Eisner is leading a team that is developing ways to monitor these basins.

Eisner and the team are using radiocarbon dating, pollen analysis, ground-penetrating radar and remote sensing to devise models for the monitoring. She and co-investigator Ken Hinkel, UC professor of geography, will report on their preliminary findings Nov. 16 at the Land-Atmosphere-Ice Interactions conference in Salt Lake City. LAII is a component of the National Science Foundation's Arctic Systems Science Program. LAII research seeks to improve understanding of the role of interactions among land, atmosphere and ice in the functioning of the Arctic System, with an emphasis on improving the predictability of the Arctic System's responses to global change.

"The Arctic plays a crucial role in global change because it responds sensitively to changes in climate," said Eisner.

By 2100, the global temperature will rise 2.5 to 10.4 degrees Fahrenheit, according to predictions made earlier this year in a report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Hinkel was one of the report's contributors.

The thaw lake basins contain a lot of peat in the frozen subsoil. If global warming occurs, the permafrost could melt and peat would start to decompose, releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

"This could accelerate global warming," said Eisner. "If this scenario turns out to be true, we would probably want to do everything we could to keep these basins intact and storing, not releasing, greenhouse gases." On the other hand, the effect could be counteracted by other changes, Eisner said. Thaw lakes, which form atop the ice-rich tundra, cover about 20 percent of the Arct

Contact: Wendy Eisner
University of Cincinnati

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